Having lived in Spain for so long, I am reluctantly resigned to the fact that there is little hope of encountering an authentic bagel, a New York-style pizza or anything remotely spicy. Although I have acquired many new Mediterranean favorites, such as mussels, artichokes, and anchovies, my heart melts when someone sends me a care package stocked with favorite foods from home.
In fact, the going rate for a stay with us in our Barcelona apartment is: Franks RedHot sauce, chili powder and a bag of pretzels. That doesn’t include the non-perishables list. If anyone has figured out how to get fresh kale or mustard greens to the Iberian Peninsula, please contact me.
A few months ago I received a generous gift, not from my homeland but from Egypt, the home country of my friend, Catrin Youssif, who works as a researcher at IRB Barcelona. Catrin generously shared two large sacks of her favorite snack food, lupin, direct from the latest care package from Egypt. My heart melted.
Although I was not familiar with dried lupini beans, she explained how the ancient Mediterranean legume is very popular for both its health benefits and delicious flavor. She enlightened me as to the one-week process required for preparing the beans, because—technically speaking—lupini beans are poisonous.
The raw beans are very high in bitter alkaloids which can be toxic when ingested. Therefore, these alkaloids must be flushed with water for one week before eating.
Lupini beans are the quintessential slow food!
Catrin thought that it was a perfectly reasonable amount of time to turn a bitter—poisonous—bean into a palatable snack. For someone like myself, who never manages to rehydrate dried kidney beans in time for dinner, this seemed overly optimistic. Nonetheless, the thought of sampling an ancient whole-food was exhilarating, so I began the challenge.
After dutifully rinsing, soaking, draining, preparing and tasting many versions, I am ready to share my findings with the non-lupin world.
These beans are absolutely D E L I C I O U S!
Known as tormos in Arabic, altramuz or chochos in Spanish, lupini in Italian and tremoços in Portuguese, lupin (as the general term in English) has been around since the ancient Greco-Roman times. The legume is an excellent source of vegetable protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. Research has shown that lupini beans may help lower blood cholesterol, balance blood glucose levels and promote intestinal health. Despite the touted health benefits, lupin is relatively unknown outside the Mediterranean basin.
Background, History and Culture
Lupin is an oilseed, or legume, from which oil can be extracted and is a member of the peanut family. The lupin plant creates beautifully colored flowers. These plants are harvested in the summertime and the seeds are dried, picked and soaked.
Lupin was first cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians of the Greco-Roman world. Urban legend suggests that locals flushed the bitter alkaloids from the beans by placing them in sacks anchored in fast moving streams.
There are over 500 species of the genus Lupinus known today, most of which are used for livestock feed. Lupini beans are popular in the Mediterranean, European, Northern African, Middle Eastern and South American cultures. Here in Spain, altramuz as it is called, is mostly cultivated in Seville and processed in the 45-year-old farm, Saladitos. They distribute approximately 6 million tons of the salted and brined snacks to 23 countries around the world each year.
How to Serve Lupini Beans
Lupini beans can be eaten fresh after being soaked or brined. The fresh versions, which I prefer, can be eaten plain, lightly salted or added to soups, salads, grains, stews, or added atop a bed of endive leaves and drizzled with an herb vinaigrette. The brined beans, which are very salty in flavor, are served in the Mediterranean and Latin American cultures as a tapa accompanying a cold beer or crisp white wine. The fresh beans will last for several days in an airtight container in the refrigerator while the shelf-stable brined versions will last for months.
Food manufacturers are currently experimenting with lupin to make gluten-free flours, coffee substitutes, milk substitutes and oils.
Equivalents: 1 cup dry beans equals 3 cups cooked
Health Benefits of Lupin
Lupini beans are often compared to soybeans or peanuts since they are oilseeds of the legume family. As with all legumes, lupin is a very rich source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, calcium and iron. Compared with other legumes, lupini beans provide more calories because they have more fat. This is mostly due to the high content of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Characteristics of Lupin:
- Rich in digestible, plant-based protein ideal for vegetarians
- Promotes healthy bowel function and alleviates constipation
- Rich in polyphenols, carotenoids and tocopherols
- May regulate blood sugar levels associated with diabetes
- Helps lower total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides associated with health disease
- Provides a diverse profile of essential amino acids
3.5oz (100g) portion of cooked dry lupini beans:
- Calories – 119
- Protein – 16 g
- Fat – 3 g | 4% Daily Value
- Monounsaturated fat – 1.2 g
- Polyunsaturated fat – 0.7 g
- Omega-3 fatty acids – 134 mg
- Fiber – 3 g | 11% Daily Value
- Folate – 15% Daily Value
- Calcium – 5% Daily Value
- Iron – 7% Daily Value
- Magnesium – 14% Daily Value
- Phosphorus – 13% Daily Value
- Manganese – 45% Daily Value
- B vitamin group
Note: the brined versions may be high in sodium
LUPINI BEAN RECIPE
How to Prepare Lupini Beans
Preparation methods vary a great deal, and each Mediterranean has his or her own special technique for rendering the ancient legume edible. This lupini bean recipe from Catrin has been tweaked ever so slightly with a few personal touches.
Step 1: Soak the beans for 24 hours
Pour beans into a metal colander. Sort through the beans tossing any that are discolored or cracked. Rinse the beans thoroughly with tap water. Add the beans to a glass bowl or large stock pot and cover with enough water to accommodate expansion. Soak the beans for 12 to 24 hours.
Step 2: Boil the beans
Drain the liquid from the overnight soak. Rinse beans in a metal colander with tap water.
Pour the beans into a large stock pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 – 50 minutes, occasionally stirring. Don’t boil for too long since the skins will break open. You can skim off the dark foam that accumulates on top of the water. Remove from heat, drain and rinse with tap water.
Step 3: Soak for 7 to 9 days
This step will remove the harmful alkaloid components which can cause illness. Transfer the rinsed beans into a glass bowl and cover with fresh water. Some methods suggest adding one tablespoon of salt per quart of water to brine the beans as you soak them.
Refrigerate the beans in an airtight container for 7 to 9 days, draining, rinsing and replenishing with fresh water two times daily. Change the water once in the morning and once at night by draining the beans, rinsing for about 30 seconds with tap water and then covering again with fresh water.
Around day 5 you can take a tiny taste of a bean to check for bitterness. Continue this process until all bitterness is removed and a palatable bean emerges.
Note: During your sampling, it is not recommended to eat whole beans until day five when the alkaloid levels have been reduced.
Step 4: Drain and store
Once the bitterness has been removed, the beans are ready to eat or be added to a recipe. If you are going to store them, drain the beans and rinse well under the tap. Store the cooked beans, submerged in lightly salted water, in an air-tight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to one week, changing the water daily.
Step 5: Enjoy!
To eat, you can remove the tiny pod covering and pop the bean into your mouth or enjoy the bean and skin together.
Tricks of the Trade
Use glass or stainless steel kitchenware for soaking and draining so that the alkaloids are not absorbed into your cookware.
Try adding any of the following ingredients to spice up the flavor of your lupin beans: olive oil, chopped garlic, cumin, parsley, rosemary, sage, lemon juice or a dash of salt.
Allergies: Lupin is related to peanuts and soy; individuals allergic to either of these foods may also have an allergic reaction to lupin. Reactions can include anaphylaxis. Parents of children with food allergies should be particularly cautious. For more information regarding lupin and the labeling of lupin-containing foods, please consult the FDA website.
Do you have a story regarding lupini beans? Do you have a lupin bean recipe? Please share your recipes, traditional dishes and personal stories with us about this fantastic little bean!